Governments in the GCC are preparing for increasing use of social media to interact with citizens, spread government messages and gain feedback on policies.
In 2011 the world saw how social media has changed the world we live in: the instant dissemination of news, giving a voice to the masses and, in the Middle East, aiding the mobilisation of citizens in the Arab Spring.
While here we saw social media being used to rally people against governments, in 2012 governments in the Arab world will be embracing social media as a means of communicating with the people, according to Fadi Salem, Director and Fellow at Dubai School of Government.
“Government attitudes to social media are changing. They recognise that, like the Internet this will become an essential part of how they operate. Attitudes are changing and whereas at one time social media was distrusted, Governments are starting to recognize its potential as a communication tool,” he said.
Driving this change is a social media savvy GCC population. The adoption of social media is at its highest ever rate. The UAE has the highest penetration of Facebook in the region at 30%. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum led the way with social media, embracing its use years ago. However, it has taken governments a while to follow his lead. Salem puts this down to control and distrust.
“Government departments are very concerned with privacy and cautious of new technologies so it will take time for widespread use but a change in attitudes is now coming,” he said.
Ibrahim El Badawi, from Emirates eGovernment, has been expecting this shift for a while now. “In 2010 we started collaborating with government entities to produce policy guidelines on how to use social media effectively to maximise the value delivered to the public and manage potential risks and concerns attached with using social media. We launched the guidelines in early 2011 and have seen high interest from UAE government entities.”
Social Media is ideal for governments who are providing services to residents and use the medium to interact with end users. Emirates eGovernment, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi Police are examples of government entities that are currently doing this. Emirates eGovernment has a Facebook and Twitter page, where users can view their current activities, connect to their portal and communicate with them. Facebook and Twitter are engrained in their communication strategy.
To support this shift in attitudes towards social media, governments across the GCC will be attending the GCC Government Social Media Summit from 9-12 April in Dubai. Communications staff will gain a ‘crash course’ in social media and learn how they can implement social media best practice.
Salem, who will be speaking at the conference comments, “The summit has come at a timely moment in the development of social media use. It is an excellent way for government staff to increase their knowledge on social media tools and techniques.”